by Larry Kulchawik
Like many of you, I have spent many COVID quarantine hours reading more than ever before. I also have been spending more time on my computer, doing some digital gambling, and making stock investments to pass the time. Although I am retired, I just can’t stop thinking about the future of our meeting and convention industry. Things may never be the same. So, where might we go from here? New COVID practices may alter things a bit, but new technology applications, and attendee mindsets, I believe, will influence our future even greater.
An article I recently read on stock investments in technology really caught my eye and its relevance to the tradeshow marketing industry. The article was written by an investment guru named Eric Fry who shared his vision for investments in new technologies and applications before they are known mainstream companies.
A portion of Eric Fry’s 3000% Technology Revolution…
The millennial generation here in the United States is leading the world into a completely new mode of life: the screen-based lifestyle. This transformation is not simply a fad, craze or generational quirk. It is a megatrend and it will impact our daily lives in ways we can scarcely imagine today. Millennials and ‘zoomers’ (Generation Z’ers) seem to believe that there is no point in living a life that doesn’t appear on the screen of a handheld device. For them, “date night” does not mean gazing lovingly at one another across a dimly lit restaurant table and then going to a movie. It means sitting across from one another at a restaurant table, (when restaurants reopen) while staring constantly at their phones and texting other friends. Playing a game with a friend does mean huddling around a Monopoly board and coveting the Boardwalk and Park Place properties. It means locking yourself alone in a dark room with a video monitor, donning headphones, and spending endless hours playing “Fortnite.” Asking Mom a question does not mean strolling into the other room and talking face to face. It means texting that question to Mom, even if she’s just 15 feet away. Millennials and Zoomers are the first “screen time” generations—more are sure to follow. These new ways of communicating might drive you nuts, but surely must be taken seriously.
The screen time mega-trend might be the most powerful one since the industrial revolution. The American lifestyle is literally shifting from an ambulatory, face-to-face paradigm to a stationary, face-to-screen paradigm. Almost every aspect of life that we and our parents conducted by moving from Place A to Place B and/or speaking directly to another human being is migrating to a screen. Sure, the option remains to behave in a “retro” fashion.. just because it used to feel good. Pre- coronavirus, you might drive up to a mall with a friend and shop for clothes. That activity would also include some “retro” face-to-face conversations. But activities like these are becoming increasingly passé. It is now possible to conduct every necessary daily activity without ever speaking to another human.
In 2008, adults spent 15 minutes per day on a mobile device and one and a half hours per day on a desktop/laptop—outside of work hours. In 2018, we now spend three hours per day on a mobile device and two hours on a desktop/laptop. Regardless if you are a millennial or a baby boomer we all are spending more time on a handheld device than ever before, and feel comfortable in doing so.
Many of the “first movers” of the screen time mega-trend have achieved spectacular success.
Companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Alphabet identified this megatrend while it was still an infant—and moved decisively to capitalize on it. Or maybe they just got lucky. After all Facebook, Amazon and Google all started their corporate lives as desktop-based services that relied on slow dial-up internet connectivity. But thanks to the development of high-speed, wireless connectivity, in combination with the arrival of the iPhone in 2007, the fortunes of the early screen-time companies improved dramatically. As high- speed internet became ubiquitous, and successive iterations of smart-phones and tablets significantly boosted the functionality of handheld screens, a second wave of screen-time companies will enter the market to create new applications for screen time technology. Stay tuned!
So, what does this all mean to the future of tradeshows and events going forward? Especially in light of the new post Covid requirements that will be in effect? I still believe that face-to-face communication will remain a powerful tool. It creates emotion in a way that digital does not. It creates empathy that encourages a decision to buy—especially for high ticket items that require thought and analysis when buying on behalf of your company. Now on the flip side, when purchasing everyday commodities or services, digital media is strongly leading the way.
For the past year, we all have been purchasing more stuff online than ever before. We also have been doing Zoom meetings, and getting used to this digital alternative vs face to face. Better than no communication I guess, but not as effective as human contact.
When the green light goes on for a return to face-to-face meetings, what changes might we expect? Other than medical safety issues, what technology and visitor mindsets might change, or influence, our supplier tactics going forward? How will digital tactics be blended with face to face at tradeshows? How might we use this down time to re-tool and anticipate the new desires for the clients we serve and recalculate our resources for an evolving tomorrow? I really am uncertain here, but surely we must take into consideration the trend toward the screen-based lifestyle mentioned above.
Larry Kulchawik is the head of Larry Kulchwawik Consulting and author of Trade Shows from One Country to the Next. For more info, visit www.larrykulchawik.com